as a species, humans are (not surprisingly) accustomed to thinking of themselves as the end result of evolution. after all, we think, speak, reason, write, create art, humor and emotion. clearly, we’re special…what could be more evolved!
perhaps if multi-cellular life could have expressed itself, it would have said the same thing…and of course, it would have been mistaken. life seems have have a trajectory of ever evolving to higher forms. our perception of ourselves as some type of endpoint seems to be a combination of hubris and the difficulty of thinking about time at evolutionary scale.
elon musk has speculated that humans are the biological bootloaders for artificial intelligence. my guess is that he is right. the arrow of evolution seems to point unendingly upwards and my guess is that biology is not its only domain. biological intelligence may well lead to technological intelligence…and from there, on to realms that we cannot imagine.
one might speculate about the relationship between the above and the fermi paradox (or its foil, the rare earth hypothesis). basically, the quesiton of: given the size of the observable universe, where is all the intelligent life? are we rare? does intelligence snuf itself out? i tend to favor the rare earth perspective. the series of conditions necessary to produce technologically adept races may be stupendously unlikely. if this is the case, we should (as a species) take much greater care of each other and our precious blue marble. it is really a responsibility of cosmic proportions.
but perhaps i am wrong. perhaps life is common. then, “where are they” is a reasonable question. my best guess is the transition from biological to technological intelligence is rapid (from a cosmic perspective- in the blink of an eye). it might take just a few decades. and rather than expanding out to convert all available matter into computational substrate (which would be observable), it might be that the most efficient computing is done at small scales. maybe the best organized, most energy efficient mode of technological consciousness requires only a small amount of matter. quantum computers are thought to require only a few thousand atoms to be capable of stupendous feats. perhaps physically large computing systems don’t work very well. and further, would physical computing evolve into some form of pure energy? leaving the physical behind, it might be that the beings that have evolved past biology quickly leave the physical realm…and, poof! not observable, but present.